From The Back To The Middle And Around Again

I did a lot of things last Saturday to make up for not having any actual dance lessons the Saturday prior. For some reason I decided that having a double lesson with Lord Dormamu first thing in the morning was a good idea, and then when that was done I was talked into going to a double lesson with Lady Tella as well. Not content with just having that much on my plate for the day, I also went to a dance party that night! I feel like I wasn’t actually home at all that day..

Because of all the things I had planned to do that day, I ended up waking up early on Saturday morning to meet with Lord Dormamu. We had arranged to get together at such an early time that the Endless Dance Hall was still locked when I showed up. So much for getting there a little before my lesson to warm up. As I sat in the parking lot waiting for someone to show up and let me in, I watched a bunch of people running along the sidewalk in front of the studio, many of them wearing weighted vests. I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of fitness studio near the Endless Dance Hall that was putting on this running… thing, that was going on, because these people would run by, then run back, then run by again, then run back again, over and over.

Both Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer showed up after I had been sitting there for ten minutes or so and I finally got to go inside. After a quicker than planned warm-up, we got started by looking over our Waltz routine. Overall Lord Dormamu was pleased with how well the Waltz looked after watching what was essentially a cold run-through. He felt better about how our rising action was looking, telling us that we had definitely managed to get rid of the ‘popping’ that we had been previously been doing, but now that we have fixed that problem he wanted to see us work on the lower half of our swing through the steps.

The way that he explained it to us was like this: imagine that your height is split into ten equal sections from the floor up to your head. When we took frame at the beginning of the routine, before we even started moving with the music, the height we were holding would be the neutral or resting point, which he said was a five. If we went through the first Natural Turn in the routine, the apex of the Natural Turn would be considered a seven. Our problem was that the lowering action he was seeing from across the room was only going down to a four, so there wasn’t enough of a change between the lowest point in the figure and the apex.

What he wanted us to start working on to fix this was not just lowering more into the figures. While that would make the height of the rise versus the fall look more dynamic, Sparkledancer and I are not exactly the same height, so we would run the risk of lowering different amounts. Lord Dormamu told me that this is one of those rare instances where I actually have to adjust the action in my body slightly to press downward against Sparkledancer from my midsection, allowing me to control how much she lowers.

If I am doing this correctly, the amount that we both lower will look equal. That will prevent what he sees couples doing sometimes when he is judging, where one partner is essentially sliding their body down the front of the other because they are lowering more than their partner is. By putting me in control of how far down we go, telling Sparkledancer how far she should lower by pressing her downward with my body, she will always stay connected to me at the same point. Therefore, no risk of sliding. Pus, I’m much heavier than Sparkledancer, so there’s very little chance that she could fight against me pressing down on her, meaning that I will always get my way.

Of course, this means that from now on, if we don’t lower enough it’s going to be all my fault. No pressure there, right?

After Waltz we spent a bit of time looking over the Foxtrot. There were a few specific points that I took away from this section to focus on during practice this week. The big positive note that I was told was that my leg action is looking smoother, so the work that I have been doing during practice has been paying off. However, overall I was told that I could be keeping it lower, so that is something to spend more time working on. Then there is the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish again, which I was told was looking like it popped up a lot during the times I was going through it. I may have been rushing the first step of the figure for some reason, because if I think about it and take it slower, the issue doesn’t happen.

We also spent a bit of time looking at the Natural Weave as well, though that wasn’t for me. Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy about how Sparkledancer’s positioning looked while we were going through the figure. He gave her a few pointers to try to help, but rather than spend a whole lot of time trying to fix her himself he asked her to spend some time working with Lady Tella specifically on that figure since we were going to see her later that day. Aside from that one figure in Foxtrot, he said that we should spend the rest of our time with her having her look at Sparkledancer in the Quickstep. Our Quickstep routine is relatively simple, and we usually score extremely well in that style, so having Sparkledancer look as best as possible should keep us on top he said.

After finishing up paperwork with Lord Dormamu, we got a half-hour break and then we met up with Lady Tella. For much of this lesson, just like last time the two of them got together, I was mostly used as a male body for Lady Tella to demonstrate with or for Sparkledancer to practice with. It is good for me to be there, since the changes that Lady Tella is working with Sparkledancer on implementing end up slightly changing our center of balance, so it is good for me to be able to feel that and get used to it as it is happening, but not a whole lot of information they discuss is actually directed toward me.

When we started, Sparkledancer explained to Lady Tella that Lord Dormamu specifically wanted her to look at the Natural Weave in the Foxtrot, and then once that was done to start looking at her overall shape in the Quickstep. Lady Tella wanted to start us off by watching us go through the entire Foxtrot routine so that she could see everything in context before we pulled out just one small section to look at. After the initial run-through, I walked through the figures in the section in question with Lady Tella in practice hold, telling her the name of each figure before stepping through it. Apparently knowing the names of the figures that are in your routine is a skill most people don’t have, because Lady Tella told me that she wouldn’t have known the names if I hadn’t told her.

The ladies spent quite a bit of time working through Sparkledancer’s body position in the Natural Weave, trying to get it to look better. There wasn’t actually much there for me to do, other than stand where I was told and lead one or the other of them through the figures when needed. The only real comment that I got was that Lady Tella preferred that I put slightly more emphasis on the right-side sway during the Weave-portion of the Natural Weave. Doing so, she told me, made the movement of Sparkledancer’s head seem more natural. If I didn’t emphasize the sway enough, she said that from the outside it looks like Sparkledancer is just moving her head because she was told to, not because she is being led to.

Once everyone was happy with the way that section of Foxtrot looked and felt, we switched over to Quickstep for a bit. The girls talked through all the points where Lady Tella saw that Sparkledancer was losing her position, and parts where she wanted her to emphasize her stretch outward even more as we traveled. A couple of places we spent a lot of time on were the two Natural Spin Turns in the routine, particularly the second one. In the first corner, we have that strange, not-quite-Bronze amalgamation that Lord Dormamu gave us of a Natural Spin Turn with a Slip Pivot that has never really felt in control. Lady Tella could see that during our initial run-through, so she worked with Sparkledancer to see if she could help.

While the two of them were discussing her part, I decided to focus on keeping my third step in line with the line of dance. When we were originally taught the figure, I was coming around Sparkledancer much more on that third step, more toward diagonal wall. That meant that the Slip Pivot would have to turn 90° to finish pointing diagonal center before going into a Double Reverse Spin. That much rotation in two different directions in such a short amount of time is what causes the feeling of being out-of-control. If I reduce the step I take to go toward line of dance, the Slip Pivot only has to turn 45°, which gives Sparkledancer much more time to prepare her leg to go backward into the Heel Turn for the Double Reverse Spin. I think it helps a lot, so I’m going to keep doing it unless I’m told otherwise.

To cap things off on Saturday, I went out that night to a party being hosted at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior had put together something fancy to celebrate the holiday weekend, and had booked a local jazz band to come play music throughout the evening. That sounded like a particularly fun and interesting event to attend, so I headed out there. This also happened to be the only dance party in the whole Dance Kingdom scheduled for that night, so this is where everyone else ended up for dancing, too.

There was some time set aside right at the beginning of the night where Lord Junior planned on teaching a beginner Foxtrot lesson while the band was getting their equipment setup. I hadn’t planned on participating, so I didn’t arrive until about ten minutes after the class started. Lord Junior had a whole bunch of people in the class though, with several more women than men, so as soon as I walked in the door he called me out in the middle of whatever he was teaching and told me to put my shoes on and jump in to help.

The figures that Lord Junior was showing everyone were just the absolute basics for American Foxtrot – just the Forward Basic and Left Rock Turn. As he explained, this was only supposed to be a short beginner class and he just wanted to give all the newcomers the ability to get around the floor during a song if they wanted to give it a try. Most of the second-half of class was spent with the men rotating through partners to allow everyone to practice what they learned. When I would change partners, if I came across any lady that I didn’t recognize I would take a second to introduce myself and ask them if they had ever done this before. I had quite a few women tell me that this was their first time ever dancing Foxtrot, so this party that Lord Junior had put together obviously attracted quite a few newcomers.

During the last few rotations that Lord Junior had the class go through with the music that he was playing from his sound system, the drummer and the bass player from the band started to play along with the song that Lord Junior had chosen. He took that as a signal from the band letting him know that they were ready to go, so he wrapped up the class and turned the night over to them.

I thought that the party was fun. I spent more time just listening to the band play than I did dancing, and I’m OK with that turn of events. Most of the dancing that I did was during the few breaks that the band got throughout the evening, where Lord Junior would plug his phone into the sound system and play some songs that he thought were fun, in dance styles that the band didn’t play much, like Quickstep, Viennese Waltz or West Coast Swing.

There was one lady that was at the party though that kind of made me uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I danced with her once in the group class as we were rotating through partners, but then I felt like she was watching me the rest of the night. Maybe she wanted to dance with me, but I was always talking to other people who I knew. Maybe she thought I was funny looking. Maybe I had something on my shirt and she really just wanted to point it out to me. I don’t know. Sparkledancer also caught her watching me, and came over to tell me at one point during the party. Of course, her take on the situation was that the lady was looking at me with “hungry eyes” because I was a single male who had some moderate skill in dance. Weird.

Aside from avoiding “hungry eyes” lady that evening, I also spent some time talking with one older gentleman during the course of the party. He was telling me a fascinating tale about two other dancers who had come to the party that night. The lady in his story was someone who is well-known in the social dance community, having been part of it for many years and serving on the boards of various dance clubs in the area during that time. The gentleman in question is a relatively recent addition to the social dance scene here. He moved to the area from somewhere else, knowing a bit about dance when he arrived, but with so many instructors and classes in the area to work with this guy has really blossomed as a social dancer.

At some point in the last year these two people started dating, and now they go out to almost every dance party in the area together. The older gentleman I was talking to told me that many of the social dancers now refer to them as the ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ because they think these two are such good dancers. Older gentleman was quick to tell me that these two were not good in the same way that I am, since he has been around when Sparkledancer and I have been practicing so he’s seen how I can dance, but this ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ is good enough to impress all the social dancers they spend time around.

Maybe I’ll have to check in on these two as time goes on… you know, to see if all that power goes to their head. That could be interesting and amusing to keep notes about, right?

Here’s a funny thing that also happened this weekend…

Last Sunday afternoon I had gone out to the Electric Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer for our regular Sunday practice time. This particular Sunday afternoon, the studio was practically empty, I’m guessing because of the holiday weekend. The only people who I saw in the studio when I got there was Lord Junior and a young couple he was working with on what looked like a wedding dance, and then Sparkledancer who was sitting in a chair against the back wall putting on her shoes.

I waved hello to Lord Junior and then wandered over to put on my own dance shoes and stretch out a bit before we got started. When I stood up and looked back toward the front of the building, I caught sight of a tiny body running out toward the dance floor, yelling something to Lord Junior. It turns out that he had brought his young daughter, who I think isn’t even three years old yet, along with him that afternoon.

Since Lord Junior was teaching, he told his daughter that he was busy with the couple that he was teaching, then told her to go say hi to Sparkledancer and I instead. This excited the little girl immensely, so she turned to look over at where I was standing and stretching out my shoulders, then ran as fast as she could over to say hello. The conversation I had with her was amusing. First of all, she is super young, so her command of the English language was very basic. Secondly, she was really quiet, so even though she laughed loudly when excited, I had to lean over or crouch down near her to understand half the words coming out of her mouth.

What I learned in my conversation with this young lady is that she wants to be the Ballerina Princess. Not a Princess Ballerina – I asked to make sure I had that right, and apparently Ballerina Princess is correct, and Princess Ballerina is wrong. When Sparkledancer asked her if she knew how to dance, she told us that she really was taking ballet classes, then she showed us her best dance moves. I swear this child is already a better dancer than I am. Must be nice growing up with a parent who owns a dance studio, right?

Things got even funnier after that though. I’m not sure how it happened, but after talking about becoming the Ballerina Princess then she started talking about her dog at home… then she was telling me about the dog digging holes in the yard… then she got down on her hands and knees to show me how the dog dug holes so it could sniff worms, because apparently that’s what dogs do once the hole is dug. After that, she told me that she was a puppy, so she started crawling around the dance studio like a puppy, digging holes, sniffing worms and barking occasionally. When she came back around to Sparkledancer and I, she told us that we could play puppies with her, but since we were bigger she would be the baby puppy while Sparkledancer was the mommy puppy and I had to be the daddy puppy.

I’m not sure how we were able to be puppies and also somehow able to have her as a puppy, but I never questioned her on that. Funny. So yeah. That’s a true story that happened during dance practice this weekend.

Skipping ahead for brevity, on Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. When I got there that night the Ballerina Princess was back, and this time she had her older sister with her. Sister is only a year older, so both of these girls are tiny. Their mom (Lord Junior’s wife) was wandering around the studio talking to people, so the two girls were just running around being silly. When I sat down to change into my dance shoes, both of the girls ran over to talk. The older girl was telling all of us sitting in that area all about her ballet recital over the weekend, and how she danced all by herself on stage in front of everyone while her mom was in the back. Ballerina Princess was talking about… something, but she was talking so fast and so quietly that I didn’t catch any of it, so I just smiled and nodded.

Eventually the girls got tired of standing around talking and they started running around in circles. Being the accommodating adults that we are, Sparkledancer, Veep and I, who were all sitting along the back wall, would hold out our hands so that they could high-five us as they ran by. I’m kind of jealous of how much energy that these two small girls had stored up inside them, because they just kept running as fast as their tiny legs would carry them for ten minutes straight, laughing the whole time.

When it was time for them to leave with their mother, Lord Junior came over and crouched down in the middle of the floor and held up his hands for high-fives like Sparkledancer, Veep and I. However, this was all a trick, because as soon as the girls changed direction to run over and slap his hands, he grabbed them both up and picked them up off the ground to carry them out to the car. So tricky! That meant play time was over, and it was time for class to start.

We looked at some Foxtrot this week in class, with all figures in the progression we were given coming straight from the Bronze and Silver syllabus. Starting out heading toward diagonal center, we did a Feather and then added on an Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending. I know that sounds like four different figures, but it is actually the name of one figure in the Silver-level syllabus for International Foxtrot. Go ahead, look it up! See what I mean?

When we finished the Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending we were back traveling toward diagonal center once more. Here we added on a basic Three Step and then went into a Natural Telemark to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Natural Telemark before that night. It’s another figure from the Silver-level syllabus, and this one is all rotational so you don’t have to worry about traveling anywhere. There’s a spot in the middle where you take a small side-step as the lady is turning around you, and the trick I was told here was to lower even further into my legs briefly before coming up for the Feather Finish. That slight lowering should help stop the lady’s turn so that she can prepare to start moving in a new direction for the next steps.

That’s all I want to make notes about this week. There were other things that I did, but none of them are important or amusing enough for me to care to write down. Plus, this is already long enough as-is. I hope that your week of dancing has gone as well as mine. Until next time!

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